We are just about ready to kick off the 2013 season for the Pittsburgh Power. The team announced their "final" roster today, Josh Smith suffered an injury while preparing for training camp and will not be ready for the season opener.
A few players return again for the Power, but overall there are a lot of new faces suiting up for the team this year. Considering the final results from last season, that's probably a good thing.
Let's take a look at the team a bit more in depth.
There wasn't much to write home about last year as the Power struggled to a 5-13 season. The only truly memorable game was an AFL record 31-point comeback victory over the Orlando Predators.
The team seemed to lack direction and the losses piled up, leading to the dismissal of head coach Chris Siegfried. Defensive coordinator Derek Stingley took over and the team seemed to rally around him a bit more, winning two of their last four games to head into the offseason.
It's obvious change is needed anytime you post that kind of record, and the Power have made quite a few changes to the roster and are fully prepared to kickoff the 2013 season Saturday night against the Utah Blaze.
Fans who have followed the Power since their inception will know that it's been the team's inability to find a solid quarterback that's led to failure. Here's hoping AFL rookie quarterback Jordan Jefferson is finally the superstar they need to take this team to the playoffs.
Jefferson starred at LSU, appearing in the national championship game and he threw for 4733 yards and 34 touchdowns and added over 1000 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in his collegiate career.
Running back Kirby Griffin is another new face will start in the backfield for the Power. Griffin did not play in the AFL last year but was a strong part of the Jacksonville Sharks march to the 2011 title. Griffin has 32 rushing touchdowns in his two years in the AFL so far, and looks to build upon that total this year for the Power.
Two familiar faces headline the Power receiving corps. Mike "The Joystick" Washington is back for his third season with the Power. He's caught 229 passes for 2851 yards and 64 touchdowns the past two years and looks to continue putting up strong stats for the Power.
2012 First team all-arena kick returner and 2011 JLS Ironman of the Year P.J. "Superman" Berry is also back in the fold. Berry has posted two consecutive seasons with 2000 return yards, but he also knows how to catch the ball. He has 4227 receiving yards and 78 touchdowns through the air, and also has run for 18 more in a 3-year career.
Center Beau Elliott, a former 2nd team all-arena center, is back for his second season for his hometown team. The IUP and Highlands High School grad is an absolute beast in the middle of the Power line and will be looking to help newcomers Jason Thomas and Daverin Geralds mesh into a formidable front wall for the Power.
The true strength of this team is going to be the defense. This was a group that was 2nd in the AFL in yards allowed last year but struggled at times to force turnovers. They needed playmakers and I feel the team did a great job of getting them.
The biggest offseason grab was adding first team all-arena jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson. Jackson tied for the lead league in interceptions (14) last year as a linebacker. He's played in coach Stingley's defense several times and knows the ins and outs and should bring fear to opposing defense because of his coverage skills.
Upfront, look for 2nd year man Dominie Pittman to improve upon his rookie season in which he notched 5.5 sacks. AFL veteran Neil Purvis lines up on the other side. He has battled injuries both years he has played for the Power but he is capable of generating a strong pass rush. Rookie Willie McGinnis will play nose tackle.
The Power also upgraded the secondary. Chris LeFlore returns for a second season and set a Power franchise record with nine interceptions last year. Sergio Gilliam comes over from Kansas City where he had six interceptions last year. They also added Brandon Freeman who has two years of AFL experience and the team is also high on Tank Calais.
Josh Smith was supposed to handle the kicking duties for the Power but injured himself in practice so the Power will open up the season with Josh Czajkowski from N.C. State. Regardless of who does the kicking for the Power they will have to improve upon the dreadful 70% extra point percentage the team posted last year.
They draw a tough battle in week one against the Utah Blaze. The Blaze fell one game short of the ArenaBowl last year, losing to the Arizona Rattlers 75-69 in the National Conference championship game. Reigning league MVP quarterback Tommy Grady once again leads a potent passing attack.
He'll have Aaron Lesue (154 rec, 1787 yards, 55 TD), Brandon Thompkins (76 rec, 906 yards, 26 TD's), and L.J. Castile (104 rec, 1196 yards, 27 TD's) leading the way in a strong receiving group.
Defensively, Utah was practically an unstoppable force last year, earning the nickname "Sack Lake City." Caesar Rayford has 22.5 sacks in his previous three seasons with Utah and teammate Keenan Mace led all AFL nose guards with 7 sacks last year.
Be sure to keep an eye on new mack linebacker Joe Mortensen who is looking to make a name for himself this year for the Blaze.
Overall it should be an interesting matchup in Pittsburgh this week. If Jefferson can prove he belongs in the AFL and limit the turnovers, the Power could be looking at a chance to make an early statement. The defense gets a chance to show right away what it can do against top flight competition. This is the kind of game that sets the tone for the season.
It's time to see what these guys can do.